International Women's Day is the perfect time to look back on our gains and losses in the last few generations.
I'm amazed when someone tells me they've never been one of those Women's Libbers. Are they telling me they believe women should be chattels, unable to vote and their property passing to their husband on their marriage? Are they saying they don't believe in equal pay for equal work, equal education and equal opportunity in employment? Are they saying they don't care about violence toward women?
It's easy in 2016 to forget the path cleared by the courageous women who went before us; the novelists who brought the plight of women to the general consciousness, the suffragettes who endured scorn and imprisonment to gain the right to vote and to forget the tireless lobbyists for women's rights.
I was reading Marilyn French's last novel written before her 2009 death, The Love Children. Amid the nostalgia of my era of coming of age, is the realities of North American society in the 60's. I was struck by the things we didn't know were wrong with our place in our society at the time.
You can thank the Women's Liberation Movement for coining the term sexual abuse. It didn't even exist before then. Although all the women from my generation have our stories, at the time we didn't really know how wrong it was. An example is a friend of mine who tells of being a young woman in her first office job at a manufacturing plant. Her boss would sit behind his desk fondling himself while looking at her through the window into her office. Did she take a complaint to management? Of course not. When she was forced to go on the factory floor, she endured men saying the slogan from a fast food restaurant, Hot & Juicy, as a play on her name. Did she put in a complaint to their superiors? Of course not. We didn't even know we could complain.
We were so used to cat calls walking by construction sites and holding our books in front of our chests so the boys wouldn't make rude jokes in the high school hallways, that this didn't seem all that bad. We wrestled with groping boys on dates and tried to give creepy uncles a wide berth at family gatherings. We didn't even tell our parents any of that happening. It was somehow shameful and we felt we brought it upon ourselves in some way we couldn't understand.
It took women to start talking loud and long and often for mainstream media to focus on women's issues. It took marches and slogans and placards and, yes even an attempt to burns bras at a beauty pageant, to begin to make changes.
We could now openly talk about how uncomfortable men made us feel. In fact, we were afraid of men. Not monsters of men, just ordinary fathers, brothers, husbands, sons. No one told them their actions were hurting us. It was all in good fun, right? It was a compliment to a girl to whistle at her or pinch her bottom, wasn't it?
No, it wasn't fun or a compliment. We were afraid you would force yourselves on us sexually. We were afraid you would beat us. We were afraid you would leave us with children and no one would make you pay support. We would have to manage on our own, undereducated, at low paying jobs.
You were our doctors, ministers and teachers and yet, at some level, we were afraid of you.
By the time I was raising my daughters, we talked about these things. I could tell them they were equal to any man and must never allow themselves to be abused in any way. I could encourage them to enter any field of employment they chose.
But with all the gains, there is a very long way for the Women's Liberation Movement to go. In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, women earn 72 cents for every dollar men earn for comparable work. Higher levels of education for women has not closed the gap. A traditionally male occupation of truck driver pays an average of $45,000/yr. Early Childhood Education, traditionally a female occupation requires a college degree and earns $25,000. Women put in 3 to 6 hours daily of unpaid work in the home compared to men's 30 mins. to 2 hrs. of unpaid work. This has to affect job performance between the sexes.
Violence toward women is increasing and will continue to do so until the courts hand down stiffer penalties for these crimes and our attitude toward them encourages change in how we raise our boys.
I am a Women's Libber! I'm proud of it. It doesn't mean I don't like good men. I love them! Without good men, we women could not have achieved any basic, human rights. After all, it was and remains, men who hold the balance of power in the world. Good men listened to what we had to say and passed legislation and laws that empower women. Good men passed good values on to their sons, students, and employees. Good men enforce our rights.
As women of 2016, let's be proud of being part of a movement that extends around the world; free and equal in every way. Let's raise a cheer for the good men who will carry the banner alongside us!
My granddaughters are counting on all of us!